My Opening Speech at the Southwestern Rally

Let’s hear it for the students here today.

Let’s hear it for the full-time faculty here today.

Let’s hear it for the administrators here today.

Let’s hear it for the governing board members here today.

Let’s hear it for the staff here today.

Let’s hear it for the adjuncts here today.

You know, nothing in my wildest dreams told me 20, 10, or even five years ago that I would be here doing this today.

And I have mixed feelings about it.  Thinking back on my life, I never saw myself as what I have become-an adjunct instructor.  From my early 20’s, I knew I wanted to teach in higher ed., and I knew that above all things I wanted to be a teacher.

I still love being a teacher, and I love even teaching at multiple schools, but I don’t love being an adjunct.

For me at times, being an adjunct has meant waiting desperately each semester for a class assignment, having a car or a Trader Joe’s bag for an office, buying clothes from thrift shops and off Craig’s List, buying food for my kid through the WIC program, or sometimes even having to stand outside a Social Services Clinic cradling my sick child in my arms because I couldn’t afford insurance.

For me, being an adjunct at times means having to tear away from the time I can devote to a student, being bound to somewhere else, where students, often just as needy will also be denied access at times.

Being an adjunct also means being in an ever-growing class of transient instructors, who when the rare full-time position comes open, will join in the competition for the job like wild dogs fighting for table scraps, with perhaps one or two people being lucky enough to win the lottery of full-time job out of up to 230 applicants.

Being an adjunct means standing beside my full-time colleagues, unable to fully take part in tasks like program review, or fully understand department culture, or the big picture, because I am wed to my other campuses, and just as much as the car to which I drive to them.

And being an adjunct has meant making half as much as a full-time colleague of the same experience teaching a 17 hour load while my colleague is only required to do 15.

No, I don’t love being an adjunct, but I’m happy to be here today.

Five years ago, when in the midst of the great recession, and adjuncts were faced with the loss of classes coupled with a 5% pay cut after years of no raises, it wasn’t just that I despaired of being an adjunct, but of the idea that nothing would change.

What I mean by this is that I believed that when economic times got better, and if I survived the recession still employed as teacher, my pay and perhaps some benefits would get slightly better, but that the basic dynamic of living at marginal wages, with marginal job security, and a minimal chance of full-time employment would continue.

Now, maybe it’s not so much that I don’t believe that it could still be the case, but it’s that I’m sick and tired of not speaking out, that I’m happy, especially when I see the opportunity for California to truly begin addressing the “Adjunct Condition”.

This is the “adjunct condition”:

Nationwide, approximately 75 % of college instructors are adjuncts, with only 25% being full-timers.  On many campuses the majority of the curriculum is taught by adjuncts.  Generally these instructors are only paid for classroom hours, not for prepping, grading, researching, professional development, committee work, etc., which often represent anywhere from 60-80% of one’s job.

The “adjunct condition” is also students dealing with a loss of access to their teachers, who will teacher higher than full-time loads at multiple campuses.

Further, it is in some cases, the literal collapse or hollowing out of academic departments, with some departments, while having fully qualified adjuncts more than capable of teaching full-time classes, possessing no full-time faculty.

It is also the ever-revolving door of adjuncts being hired and fired from one place to work at another, which allows for little building of solid departmental goals or consensus.

The “adjunct condition” clearly hurts adjuncts, but it also hurts students.  Student completion rates are declining, and research has established that one of the main causes is the lack of access that students have with their instructors who, as national statistics show, are more often than not adjuncts.

Further, adjuncts are disproportionately used in lower level developing skills and first-year college classes, where often student access to teachers is most needed, yet least provided.

Moreover, the “adjunct condition” hurts the community, as declining completion rates mean fewer trained workers to take jobs that provide growth and advancement, and at the same time, increase a community’s tax base to pay for anything from better parks and schools, to simply better roads.  Second, those students who fail to complete the skills needed for good jobs will often come to need public assistance, or run a higher risk of incarceration, and clearly take more from the community than they are giving back.

If hearing all this makes you angry, then welcome to what an adjunct both feels and understands.

It is the nature of our society to look for villains. Why surely, there must be some clear cause or menace which has perpetrated this wrong.

The fact of the matter is that everyone bears some blame.

Taxpayers for years insisted on lower taxes and stronger law enforcement.  They got what they wanted, or well, sort of—less money for schools and more money for prisons.

Administrators, anxious to offer as many classes as they could, yet keep their budgets in check, increasingly hired adjuncts because they were a lot cheaper and more er. . . flexible.  i.e., easy to get rid of.

Legislators, even when handed electoral mandates like 75% of classes being taught by full-timers, simply chose to, and still choose to waive the law.

Full-timers, often pressed by the own work needs, including the increasing bureaucratic pressures of SLO’s, program review, curriculum development, and various committee work simply tried to keep up with their work.

Adjuncts, willingly accepted to teach classes aware of the poor job security and benefits, most often with the delusion that simply a years of hard work would alone lead them to full-time jobs which either never materialized, or were simply too competitive for all but a lucky few.

But you know what, today is not about anger, or at least not finger-pointing.  It’s about solutions.

In 2012, California passed Proposition 30, which brought needed funds to education, yet despite its passage, much of the debt that California had accrued during the recession had to be addressed, and so in 2013 and 2014, monies to simply save public education were spent.

It is now 2015, the money is there in the budget to affect real change, and change is long overdue.

Change for what you ask?

First let’s give students better access to their teachers.  If after all, schools are all about students, shouldn’t students be better able to access teachers outside the classroom?

It has been estimated that 30 million dollars, not additionally spent, but simply reallocated and specifically targeted to  paid adjunct office hours, could do part of that.

What might better help would be to make pay between adjuncts and full-timers more equal.  This, coupled with office hours will incline adjuncts to work at fewer campuses, and to have the time to not only better consult with students, but to do more thorough prepping, quicker grading turnarounds, and connect better with their campuses.

50 million dollars in adjunct pay parity, again not additionally spent, but simply categorically directed, would bring adjuncts.

Finally, what is most needed, is simply more full-timers.  Many if not most adjuncts, are in fact full-time teachers who cobble together multiple part-time jobs to live tenuously and teach transiently.  If California public really wants to have the best teachers, it should make it possible for the largest numbers of them to singularly devote their energies to one educational institution.

100 million dollars specifically towards the “conversion” (the governor’s office’s own words) of part-time to full-time teachers would change the present part-time to full-time ratio from 75% adjunct and 25% full-time, to 58% Part-time and 42% Full-time.

All told this represents a total of 180 million dollars, not additionally spent, but redirected to meet these needs.

It would be dishonest to say that the categorical allocation of 180 million dollars to address adjunctification would solve adjunctification in and of itself, but it would be a good first step.

There is much to suggest California’s legislature is on board with this, but not Governor Brown, who would rather give it in lump sums to various districts to leave administrators and governing boards to redirect to pretty much everything else but the above three items.

Ironically, Governor Brown is pushing for a high-speed rail project costing tens of billions of dollars, and recently pushed a water bond for billions of dollars.

This is because, as the Governor asserts, he is working towards a long lasting legacy.

What Governor Brown needs to realize is that one’s legacy resides not in physical infrastructure, but in human capital and potential.  One’s legacy resides in the hearts and minds of those that follow you.

The Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said that the greatest leaders are those who let the people claim success as their own.  Think of how many future students would be able to speak of their own success if they had increased access to a teacher who is both financially stable and feels respected.

My good adjuncts, and you are good for the work and struggle you have endured, my fellow faculty, administrators, governing board members, and staff, who work with us in the common endeavor to abate ignorance and promote potential, and finally, yet first of all, dear students, we need to make the Governor see what’s right, and we need to do it now, for it will not just affect Governor Brown’s legacy, but the ones that we leave for those who follow.

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